Ruling against Camden diocese in child sex abuse suit will stand

By Jim Walsh
March 26, 2014

A federal judge won’t change his ruling in favor of a woman alleging childhood sex abuse by a South Jersey priest.

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman Friday denied a request for reconsideration by the Diocese of Camden, which is being sued over alleged abuse by a former priest, Thomas Harkins.

The suit was filed by Lisa Syvertson Shanahan, a North Carolina woman who says she was molested in the early 1980s by Harkins, then her parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Hammonton.

Hillman initially ruled in June 2013 the lawsuit could continue under the state’s Child Sex Abuse Act, which can delay for decades the normal two-year statute of limitations.

He accepted Shanahan’s argument the clock began ticking on her claim in October 2009, when she says she realized she had a legal basis for a lawsuit.

The diocese challenged that view in its request, saying the deadline should have expired in 2006, two years after Shanahan contacted the diocese through five phone calls about Harkins.

Hillman said the diocese previously failed to make that argument and could not raise it in a bid for reconsideration.

“The diocese essentially seeks an impermissible second bite at the apple,” the judge ruled.

Daniel Hartstein, a Cherry Hill attorney for Shanahan, said he was “very pleased with Judge Hillman’s correct ruling.” He said Shanahan “looks forward to getting her day in court in seeking justice.”

William DeSantis, a Cherry Hill attorney for the diocese, could not be reached.


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